NEW IT GIRLS
Copyright 2002 www.bbc.co.uk
[ January 23rd 2002 ]
is a pupil at the Grey Coat Hospital comprehensive
school in Westminster, London, UK. She has a refreshingly
positive attitude towards technology. IT isn't
just about sitting in front of a computer all
day. It is used in every job from working in a
shop to being a journalist.
boring and it is involved in loads of jobs," she
says matter-of-factly. She could not have said
it better if the words had been put in her mouth
by Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt
herself. Scarlett, along with seven of her schoolmates,
was spending the day at Hewitt's department as
part of the Women in IT conference - being held
to look at ways of enticing girls and women into
- Year Nine pupils - were working on a project
to create 3D environments for women role models
like J K Rowling, Ellen McArthur and astronaut
Helen Sharman. It was the first time they had
worked with the software and they were clearly
enjoying it. Kathyrn has an even more positive
attitude to tech, claiming she is considering
a career as an engineer - but not all the girls
were so enthusiastic. "I'd think about doing a
degree in IT but I'd rather be a model," said
Lily, illustrating that the government still has
some way to go to convince teenage girls that
tech is more chic than geek.
the nerdy stereotype of computing is one of the
first priorities of educators and business. To
this end, the DTI has launched a teen-style tech
mag - Spark - to tell girls about the exciting
world of technology and science. The girls from
Grey Coat worked closely on the design and chose
Lara Croft as the cover girl for this month's
issue. Apart from Lara, though, the tech world
is depressingly free of role models for young
girls. Carly Fiorina may head up Hewlett-Packard
but in its recent UK apprenticeship programme
to recruit customer service engineers, only two
out of the 22 candidates were women.
just do not see technology (other perhaps than
the mobile phone which is their constant companion)
as relevant to their lives or an option for them.
In the UK, only 10% of computing undergraduates
are female, while business and computing studies
attract just 30%. Gillian Lovegrove, head of computing
and maths at Northumbria University, believes
technology will remain the domain of men for the
it easier to convert to a masters in computing,
creating summer schools, offering taster sessions,
more group-based learning and creating a culture
which does not exclude women are some of the ways
Ms Lovegrove believes can help universities redress
the balance. More also needs to be done at school
level if government and industry are to win the
war of skills shortages, says Inez Ware, an Advanced
Skills teacher at King Edmund School.
girls are technophiles, but by the end of primary
school the rot is beginning to set in. Boys like
results and girls like praise and the interest
just isn't there for them any more," she says.
Teaching boys alongside girls is a mistake she
feels and this attitude seems to be reflected
by the girls at the single sex Grey Coat school.
Working on her virtual environment for JK Rowling,
Jade is dismissive of how boys would approach
the project. "If boys were here they would probably
design some stupid fighting game," she says.
thinks the fact that girls generally get on better
at school than boys and achieve better grades
is actually disadvantaging their chances of getting
on in information technology. "There is a complacent
attitude to girls in IT and they are underachieving,"
she says. "Boys tend to get put into IT because
it might hold their attention while girls go into
history, geography and more academic subjects."
just 5% of timetable allocation given to ICT in
schools, a shortage of equipment and teachers
ill-trained to teach the subject, it is little
wonder girls are struggling to see the benefits
of learning computing, says Ms Ware. With 1.5
million tech job vacancies across Europe and only
one in five UK tech jobs filled by women, it is
clear that both government and business need to
act to convince girls that a career in technology
can be rewarding and exciting.
clubs aimed specifically at girls - with learning
done with reference to music, film stars and teen
mags - is one idea of the e-skills NTO (National
Training Organisation), the organisation charged
by government with equipping the UK with skills
for the information age.
idea will see ambassadors from the tech industry
- preferably young women that girls can identify
with - going into schools to talk to pupils about
their own experiences of working in the technology
industry. IBM and Dell have already pledged 200
ambassadors each. It would seem that government
and industry are doing their bit to convince girls
that becoming a techie is as much fun as being
a model, but whether the modern sophisticated
teenager will buy it remains to be seen.
may have a healthy attitude to learning computing
skills but as she points out these skills can
just as easily be transferred to a more glamorous
job in the media. The tech industry may find that
it spends its time and money training young women
only for them to take their skills elsewhere.